Law Society Warns Against Bush Lawyers

QLS president Christine Smyth

The Queensland Law Society (QLS) has warned about the risks of uncertified “bush lawyers” offering legal advice.

The warning comes after the Western Australia Supreme Court fined an uncertified person who advertised legal services on the Gumtree website $2500.

QLS president Christine Smyth said there was growing concern in the legal profession that consumers were being duped into taking “cheap” or “free” advice over the Internet or from lay advocates holding themselves out as qualified to give legal advice and assistance.

“Beware of fraudsters who claim to be able to give legal advice,” Ms Smyth said.

“There seems to be a growing number of armchair experts who are giving legal advice and services against the law, preying on the naivety of everyday people.”

In the West Australian case – Van Der Feltz v Legal Practice Board (2017) – the court ruled that legal work can only be undertaken by a lawyer acting pursuant to the relevant Legal Profession Act in their State.

Ms Smyth said the decision was a timely warning to anyone who may consider using anyone other than a fully qualified solicitor for legal advice.

“The Court was clear, any person claiming to have a greater knowledge of the law and its procedures than an ordinary citizen, who then gives legal advice and assistance, is committing an offence if they are not a fully licensed Australian Legal Practitioner,” Ms Smyth said.

“In Queensland a solicitor is required to hold a practising certificate to be legally allowed to give advice.

“Anyone who wants to make sure their representative is certified can do so by contacting the Queensland Law Society or via its website.”

Unqualified people offering advocacy and document drafting services are offering legal work, even if they had a disclaimer on their website or expressly stated that the work wasn’t legal.

“The court has made it quite clear that if it walks like a lawyer and talks like a lawyer, it is pretending to be one,” Ms Smyth said.

“Some of these cases have ended in money not being refunded by the adviser, meaning the client then must incur further costs by hiring a real lawyer.”

Other pitfalls in engaging an unqualified adviser included:

  • Right to confidentiality is not guaranteed
  • Right to privilege cannot be assured
  • Unqualified practitioners cannot obtain insurance while qualified solicitors are required to, and
  • Non-certified practitioners are not bound by any codes of conduct or ethics

“Having a qualified, educated and informed solicitor on your side will only assist you in your matter, whereas an unqualified person is profiteering and opportunistically taking advantage of the innocent, often causing more trouble including higher costs,” Ms Smyth said.

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